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Q&A With Chef Justin Beckett of Beckett’s Table in Phoenix

Courtesy of Justin Beckett and Beckett’s Table

It was just another day at the office and pie was on Managing Editor Kelly Kramer’s mind… for very good reason. The night before, she dined out at Beckett’s Table and after dinner, she tucked into a slice of the fig pecan pie. Next day, she couldn’t stop talking about that pie. What was the deal with that pie? I mean, it was just a slice of pecan pie, right?

Wrong.

Below, Chef Justin Beckett talks about Kelly’s favorite pie, as well as what goes into his food, his cooking style, and why you should eat at Beckett’s Table.

What did you envision when you decide to open up your own restaurant?
The vision was always clear to us. We wanted to open a restaurant that felt like a dinner party — like we were having friends over to our home and throwing a party. We wanted the neighborhood to feel as if the restaurant was theirs and we were running it for them. The restaurant had to be a place where friends, business people, first dates AND families could come together.

What makes Beckett’s Table so unique?
I believe that our always welcoming, never say “no” attitude is a unique feature. I also believe that we treat every guest as if they were an old friend coming home. We really want everyone to feel “hugged” when they enter our restaurant.

The culinary scene has come a long way in the Phoenix area… what do you attribute that to?
The farmers markets have taken hold, which is great for local farmers, restaurants and the public. I also think that in general, we are supporting and rooting for the little guy and/or the independent restaurants. I think that Phoenix is trying really hard to be a food town.

How did you come up with your menu? What are you most proud of?
The menu is comprised of foods I like to eat and foods that are in season. We are constantly coming up with new dishes or ways to improve the dishes we already make. A lot of our menu items start with a conversation about this or that and snowball into a great dish. I am proud of the whole menu, and if there is something that I/we don’t love… we change it. That is the beauty of having a seasonal menu that we print in house.

What makes a dish a Justin Beckett dish, that is, how do I know I’m eating your food?
I think there is a little bit of comedy or “not taking myself too serious” in every dish I make. Sure, there is technique and structure, but really, I just want to take a classic dish and make it current and fun, appealing to the eye, and of course very tasty.

My colleague Kelly Kramer raved about your fig pecan pie… so what’s the story behind your pie?
Well, pecan pie is a classic, but it is always too sweet, so we added some figs and changed up the pie dough to make this unique pie. Then we added housemade citrus cream cheese ice cream to liven up to the richness, but knock down the sweetness and round it out with a bit of “zest.” I like that it ties into Arizona since pecans and citrus are abundant here.

So, when you’re not in Phoenix, where do you like to eat out?
In Tucson, Ilove Cafe Poca Cosa; in San Francisco, I love Bakery Tartine and Bar Tartine; in New Orleans, I love Cochon.

Information: Beckett’s Table is located at 3717 E. Indian School Road  Phoenix, AZ 85018; 602-954-1700; http://www.beckettstable.com

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Taco Fest Declares Winner… Chef Dave Conn

Distrito Mahi Mahi taco

Arizona is definitely a foodie’s paradise… despite what some of the critics might say, we serve up some tasty food (a road trip crisscrossing the state will certainly prove me right), and we have a knack for taking a really good invention — like the taco — and making it WAY better.

So it’s not surprising that cities across our state play host to various culinary events, which focus on the art of food… however, when I heard about this particular event, I was intrigued.

The Second Annual Taco Festival, held on October 15, brought out pros and amateurs alike to battle it out for a $7,500 prize… and, of course, bragging rights. Scoff if you will, but this event not only brought out around 10,000 people, but it was a serious competition for some folks… and for the Grand Champion, the event was a sort of coming out party.

Chef Dave Conn — the Chef de Cuisine for three dining destinations by Chef Jose Garces, including Distrito at The Saguaro in Downtown Scottsdale — and his team took down the competition and set the stage for things to come at Distrito… like really good food.

Below, Conn talks about his big win and why the taco has been elevated to an art form.

What team were you on? How many people were on your team?
I competed in the Arizona Taco Festival with my colleagues from Distrito at The Saguaro. Distrito is a modern Mexican restaurant owned by Chef Jose Garces, who also created our menu (including the tacos), and The Saguaro is a new boutique hotel opening this November in Scottsdale. Distrito will be open in mid-December. In all, 8 people joined our team for the Taco Festival.

You’re a well-known chef… Why decide to compete in a taco making competition?
Well, actually I work with Chef Garces, who is well-known across the county for his amazing restaurants and as one of seven Iron Chef’s on the Food Network. As a team, we participated because it seemed like a great way to introduce ourselves to our new neighbors here in Scottsdale. Not to mention that it was a lot of fun!

What do you say to people, cynics, who are like, ‘it’s just a taco?
Two words: try one.

What sets your taco apart from the masses?
Our tacos are made from top quality ingredients and prepared relatively simply; the slow-roasted ropa vieja chicken and fresh toppings really shine that way.

So, what does this win mean to you, your career?
I am looking at this win as a warm welcome from our new home and an invitation to settle right into the Scottsdale food scene. We’re thrilled to be here.

What did you win?
The overall prize for Grand Champion; we also took the second place in the chicken and beef categories. And of course, we’re thrilled to have the signature ‘really gaudy trophy,’ as well.

Why is the taco being elevated to an art form?
All food is art, if it’s done right. Tacos are just finally getting their day in the sun.

Why is street food becoming so popular? What’s this shift all about?
Street food is authentic, flavorful, easy to eat and affordable – what’s not to like about that?

 

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